Ohio firm granted rights to shipwreck's gold worth up to $80m
A US federal judge in Virginia ruled a fugitive treasure hunter's company has not rights to stop deep-sea explorers from bringing up gold and other artifacts from the SS Central America ship, which sank off the South Carolina coast in 1857 and has been the subject of legal disputes for about 30 years.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, federal Judge Rebecca Beach Smith declared Wednesday that Ohio-based Recovery Limited Partnership has the rights to the treasure it retrieved from the wreck, as well as to anything else it recovers.
Recovery had hired Odyssey Marine Exploration (NASDAQ CM:OMEX) to bring treasure from the shipwreck since April. The Florida-based company said in May it had recovered at least 1,000 ounces of gold, but the exact details of the operation have been kept secret under a court seal.
The wreck was discovered in 1988 and Odyssey Marine said during the dive, gold bars and other artifacts were clearly visible on the surface of the shipwreck site.
The SS Central America, carrying mainly mine workers and bosses returning east from the California gold rush was caught in a hurricane and sank on September 12, 1857 roughly 260 kilometres off the South Carolina coast.
477 passengers, mostly miners and businessmen returning east from California with their personal possessions and fortunes in gold accumulated after years of prospecting during the Gold Rush were on board the steamship during her final voyage.
Odyssey believes the ship has one of the largest documented cargoes of gold ever lost at sea and such was the loss, that the salvage company says it contributed to the Panic of 1857.
The five gold ingots were recovered and two $20 Double Eagle coins were also found.
The gold bars were stamped with assayer's marks and weights that range from 96.5 to 313.5 troy ounces.
Odyssey pegs the remaining passenger and commercial gold cargo at $760,000 in 1857 value.
That could be worth more than $80 million in today's money and at today's metal prices, particularly if more of the coins retrieved are Double Eagles.
Images courtesy of Odyssey Marine Exploration.